By Harold Walters.
Sammy knew he had to withdraw the knife. He had driven it through the flesh, so it was his job to pull it back. He stared at the Martian steel piercing the flesh and bit his lower lip, working up the nerve to clasp the handle.
It was Pappy’s folding Martian blade, imitation of buck knives found on Earth. It was Sammy’s flesh.
“Don’t touch that knife,” Sammy had been cautioned a hundred times. “It’s too sharp to play with.”
Yet, whenever Sammy watched Pappy use the knife—to shave an end of board, or slice a piece of thick leather, or skin a Mars Rat he’d trapped—Sammy itched to try the blade.
Sometimes when the knife was clipped inside its leather holster and lodged on the shelf beside the solar heater, Sammy sidled along the wall until he reached the shelf’s end. If still unnoticed, he’d stroke the holster with his fingertips.
Time and again Pappy caught him sneaking towards the knife, and time and again he warned Sammy to keep his hands off. Occasionally, if Sammy failed to notice Pappy’s approach, a solid punch in the shoulder punctuated the warning.
“Leave it be, Sammy.”
Struggling not to wince, Sammy might attempt to plead his case. “Pap, I only want to look at it. See what it feels like.”
“Don’t touch it.”
Recognizing the attraction a Martian blade had for Sammy — for any boy — Pappy occasionally attempted to spread the blame.
“If I ever let you have that knife and your mother found out about it, she’d likely knife me,” he’d grin.
“You know I wouldn’t tell, Pap.”
The knife stayed out of Sammy’s hands, although his fingers ached when he watched Pap hone the knife on a whetstone and strop it on the same wide belt he used to put an edge on the old-fashioned razor he’d brought from Earth.
Then one day—Sammy couldn’t believe it!—Pappy had gone away and left the buck knife open on the wooden bench in his workhouse. Not only open, but also stabbed upright in the bench.
It was unlike Pappy to carelessly leave the knife like this. Perhaps he didn’t realize that Sammy was home from Scholarship class, or he reckoned Sammy was not likely to enter the workhouse for fear of interrupting Pappy and being assigned extra chores.
Sammy stood by the bench, arms dangling, breath coming fast. Oily sweat beaded his forehead.
Sammy looked for Pappy, but he was nowhere to be seen. He wasn’t in the vegetable patch beneath the grow-dome outside the window. He wasn’t standing in the Family Pod’s porch talking to Mammy. Sammy didn’t hear him banging about in the machinery shed.
It was time for the inevitable to happen.
Sammy reached out and grasped the knife.
He held it in front of his face and watched beams from the overhead lights glint off its polished steel blade. He bounced it on his palm admiring the brass plating riveted to its handle.
Rubbing his thumb along the blade’s edge as he’d seen Pappy do, Sammy searched for a piece of wood to shave, to test the knife’s keen blade.
He whittled a stick to a pointed end. He shaved wispy, wooden curls from a narrow plank. He sliced open the belly of a cast-off, stiffened leather sack he found beneath the bench. He pitched the knife once to stick it into a board.
Thinking he’d chisel a small propeller for a wind-jack that he might erect in the channel where controlled breezes sometime blew, he held a thin piece of wood in his palm and began using the knife’s point to bore a spindle hole.
Gnawing his lower lip, Sammy forced the knife against the wood and chaffed it back and forth like a Space Scout starting a fire.
“Sammy, you in here?” Pappy asked as he suddenly thumped open the shed door and stomped inside.
Startled, Sammy lurched.
The knife drove forward and snapped the propeller wood in half.
Freed from resistance, the blade drove through the flesh between Sammy’s thumb and forefinger and sank its tip deep in the bench top, effectively pinning Sammy’s left hand to the wood.
Sammy winced and reflexively tried to pull his hand away only to widen the cut and allow blood to gush from the wound.
“Now you’ve done it,” said Pappy when he saw Sammy stuck to the bench. “See what can happen when you don’t listen.”
“I didn’t mean to…”
“Nobody means to, but stuff happens just the same,” Pappy said.
Sammy held his left wrist as if preventing the weight of his arm from dragging on the knife.
“You have to pull it out yourself,” Pappy said, hitching his chin at the buck knife.
“I know,” said Sammy.
“Then grit your teeth and do it,” said Pappy.
Sammy placed his right hand on the knife and wiggled the blade.
“Ouch, ouch,” he said.
“Do it quick,” Pappy said, “like yanking out a loose tooth.”
Sammy hesitated to grasp the knife again.
“Go on, my son. Get it done.”
Sammy noticed Pappy was smiling a little bit as if he wasn’t especially angry about Sammy disobeying him, as if he was perhaps a little bit pleased that Sammy was learning a lesson.
Slowly, Sammy wrapped his hand around the knife and squeezed his fist shut until the handle was firm in his grip. He sucked in his breath and held it.
“Do it,” Pappy said, tapping Sammy gently on the shoulder and offering a slight, encouraging smile.
Sammy yanked out the knife.
“Ow, ow, ow,” he said, dropping the knife and clapping his palm over the bleeding gash.
“Here, let me wrap it up,” Pappy said, pulling a fairly clean wipe-pad from his pocket and reaching to bind Sammy’s hand.
“Dad…,” Sammy said while Pappy tied the bandage.
“I know, my son. You’re sorry.”
“You know what?” Pappy said. “Perhaps you should have a Martian blade of your own, now that you’ve seen what can happen if you’re heedless. Would you like that?”
“I don’t know,” said Sammy, his wound stinging.
And he truly didn’t know. Sliced and bleeding flesh was frightening.
HAROLD WALTERS lives Happily Ever After in Dunville, in the only Canadian province with its own time zone. How cool is that? Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org